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Clippers vs. Lakers Preview: Christmas Day Showdown Between Western Conference Powers

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The Clippers take on the rival Lakers in a battle between two of the best teams in the NBA on one of the biggest stages of the NBA season.

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Game Information

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

When: 5:00 PM PT

How to Watch/Listen: ABC

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: Patrick BeverleyPaul GeorgeKawhi LeonardMoe HarklessIvica Zubac

Lakers: Rajon RondoDanny GreenLeBron JamesAnthony DavisJaVale McGee

Injuries

Clippers: None

Lakers: LeBron James Probable (Thoracic Muscle), Anthony Davis Probable (Knee), DeMarcus Cousins Out (Knee), Talen Horton-Tucker Out (Foot)

The Big Picture

Much has changed since the Clippers last played the Lakers on Opening Night. The Clippers now have Paul George back and healthy and have persevered through injuries to many other key rotation players. At 22-10, the Clippers boast one of the best records in the NBA, despite several recent disappointing losses. They have dealt with numerous back to backs, lack of practice time, and cold shooting from a couple of crucial pieces, but have overall appeared to be a very good team verging on greatness. There are weaknesses, to be sure, such as an abundance of turnovers and a sometimes-stagnant offense, yet the Clippers are strong offensively and defensively and have numerous styles to throw at opposing teams. This game against the Lakers is a great test for the Clippers, whose last couple contests against top teams (Bucks, Rockets) have ended poorly.

The Antagonist

The Lakers have lost three games in a row, but between that losing streak and their Opening Night loss to the Clippers they went on an incredible 24-2 stretch. LeBron James might be taking more threes and getting to the basket less than ever, but he’s trying harder on defense than he has the past couple years and he remains the best playmaker in basketball. Anthony Davis is playing at an All-Defense level quarterbacking the Lakers’ defense, and is feasting on the offensive end. Outside of those two, the Lakers are short on starpower, but heavy on competent veterans who know where to be on the defensive end and can help space the floor. It’s essentially a two-man operation, but it’s a deadly one, and there’s no doubting how good the Lakers have looked for most of the season with Bron and AD on the court.

Notes

Clippers are Finally Healthy: In the 33rd game of the NBA season, the Clippers finally have an injury list with nothing to report. Paul George, of course, sat out the first 11 games of the season while recovering from his offseason shoulder surgery, and therefore missed the first Lakers game. However, he’s not the lone Clipper to miss significant time, as JaMychal Green, Landry Shamet, and Rodney McGruder have all missed bunches of games, while Kawhi Leonard has sat out back to backs and a couple other games as well. Doc Rivers now finally has a full rotation to work with, and it will be interesting to see how he manages it. The rotations are mostly set in terms of which players will receive minutes, but not necessarily how many. Will JaMychal Green usurp minutes from Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac as a small-ball center? Will Landry Shamet cut into Pat Beverley and Lou Williams’ minutes if he can get going from behind the arc? How does Rodney McGruder fit in? These are all questions that need answering in the coming days, and which we might start to see approaches to tonight.

Matching up with the Lakers: The Lakers have two of the best players in the NBA, and those players have carried them to 24 wins thus far this season. The Clippers’ chances in this game, therefore, will largely come down to their defensive efforts on LeBron James and Anthony Davis – if they can limit one or both of those guys, the Clips should win. Easier said than done, but the Clippers do, at least theoretically, have the pieces to match up with Bron. Moe Harkless, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard are three of the better options to guard Bron in the NBA, and all three of those players will probably take their shots on Bron, with Moe likely getting first crack. Davis is tougher – Ivica Zubac is probably a touch slow to stop AD on the perimeter, but he has the size to match. Montrezl Harrell is strong and can keep up with AD’s quickness, but is just too short to bother his shots. It’s possible the Clippers’ wings also get matched up on AD, with Zu and Trez getting the other Lakers’ big men like Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. Those wings are all a lot smaller than AD, but could probably do well enough.

Landry Shamet Heating Up: In his five games since returning from a lengthy injury absence, Landry Shamet is shooting 9-20 from three, or 45%. That number is nice to see after Shamet struggled with his outside shot to start the season, and he remains a player where nearly every shot looks like it’s going in. The main issue? He’s only averaging four attempts per game, which is far too low for a player whose main role is to spread the floor and get up three-point attempts. Team are blanketing Shamet, sure, but his quick release and ability to get his shot off should enable him to take more than that. To be a true threat in the NBA one needs to make shots, of course, but one also has to take shots. Shamet’s outside attempts should rise as he gets his feet back under him and plays more with the starters, but it would be nice to see a couple games where he takes eight or nine threes in 25 minutes. He’s the kind of shooter where such a number of attempts is not just warranted, but encouraged.

Bringing out the Zone: The Clippers have increasingly utilized a zone defense in recent weeks, and that tactic could be valuable against the Lakers in certain lineups. While the Lakers do have some good shooters on their roster, they frequently play two big men alongside LeBron James, which cramps spacing. Zone could be help in walling James and Davis off from the paint, and force them to take outside shots, which is the ideal result from them. It will be interesting to see when Doc goes to the zone, and how long he uses it for.

Keep an eye out for the game thread later today, and get excited for one of the biggest games of the season!